India's Venezuelan Oil Imports Rise, US Economy Slows, Only Electric Two-Wheelers by 2025: Latest News Today

Latest News Today: US economy slows in Q2, revised 2018 numbers well below 3%. India’s Venezuelan oil imports are at their highest in nearly two years. India’s summer crop planting lags due to sub-par monsoon rains. Data Protection Bill raises apprehensions in many Ministries. Govt backtracks on earlier proposal to allow easier retrenchment. Government wants only electric two-wheelers by 2025. India expects to build Tesla Gigafactory-like battery manufacturing plants for $1bn less. Jio has taken over Airtel, but Vodafone Idea remains on top; the numbers, however, paint an ambiguous picture. American regulators approve merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Can blockchain revolutionise construction and infrastructure planning? Facebook is using predictive machine learning and satellite imagery to map global human settlements.

 

Moving on to the top Business news of the day:

 

 MACRO  

US economy slows in Q2, revised 2018 numbers well below 3%. India’s Venezuelan oil imports are at their highest in nearly two years. India’s summer crop planting lags due to sub-par monsoon rains.


 
Uncle Sam Slows Down: US economic growth in 2018 increased at a rate of 2.5%, missing the Trump administration’s target of 3%. This might draw criticism of the $1.5tr tax cuts and domestic spending blitz that were supposed to have met the government’s growth goals.


 
Meanwhile, Q2 GDP growth was 2.1%, much lower than the 3.1% of the previous quarter. Furthermore, the increase in spending has caused government debt, alongwith the fiscal deficit, to spiral upwards. Trade tensions and weak international growth are slackening America’s growth pace but its decade-long expansion still continues, propelled by consumer and government spending.


 
Caracas to Cochin: Last month, India imported the highest quantity of Venezuelan oil in seven quarters. Oil imports surged to about 475,200 barrels per day in June, which was double the number in May, and the highest in 21 months.


 
There are only two Indian buyers of oil from Venezuela – private refiners Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy (owned by Russian oil major Rosneft). These companies have oil-buying term deals with Caracas that predate the sanctions imposed by Washington in January to pressurize the Nicolas Maduro regime.


 
Meagre Monsoons: The monsoon didn’t fail India this year but its delayed onset and subpar intensity have caused summer crop-plating to fall by 6.3% in 2019 when compared to last year. Planting of crops like rice, soybeans, pulses, sugar cane etc. are down this year, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare said.

 

 POLICY 

Data Protection Bill raises apprehensions in many Ministries. Govt backtracks on earlier proposal to allow easier retrenchment.


 
Rifts, Rifts Everywhere: The Personal Data Protection Bill has created many a rift. A detailed presentation of the Bill was made in the presence of officials from the PMO, NITI Aayog, Telecom Ministry and Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. Most ministries reportedly expressed concerns over the legislation in its current form and sought a re-examination, wanting data protection to be handled with caution given rapidly changing technology dynamics.


 
The government will now initiate fresh consultations with Indian experts over the Bill (worth noting that the legislation had allegedly already been watered down earlier in a bid to salvage it).


 
No Retrenchment: The Code on Industrial Relations Bill sent by the Labour Ministry to the Union Cabinet doesn’t include its earlier proposal to relax retrenchment norms for big-sized companies. The draft Bill had earlier proposed allowing factories with up to 300 workers to retrench or lay off workers without seeking the authorities’ nod. Now, due to opposition from trade unions including the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Ministry has back-tracked.


 
Furthermore, to provide relief to industry, the new Code proposes making fixed-term employment norms, allowing companies to hire workers on contracts with a pre-determined tenure.

 

 ELECTRIC VEHICLES  

Government wants only electric two-wheelers by 2025. India expects to build Tesla Gigafactory-like battery manufacturing plants for $1bn less.


 
Electricity is in the Air: The government’s initial target was to move to 100% electric cars by 2030. This raucous ambition was soon diluted down to a realistic 30%. But that was a reflection of ground realities, not an indication that India was unwilling to embrace EVs.


 
To this end, the government has also diversified its purview. Taking into consideration that two-wheelers out-sell cars by a ratio of almost 6:1, New Delhi’s new proposal is to have only electric two-wheelers operate on Indian roads by 2025 and only electric three-wheelers by 2023.


 
Going electric helps India in more than one way. It will tackle the toxic pollution in our cities, cut down fuel imports that regularly drain our exchequer, and enable the country to take a lead in an emerging industry with infinite promise.


 
Musk vs India: Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, USA is expected to launch next year. A lithium-ion battery and EV subassembly factory, it has a theoretical capacity of producing 35GWh of batteries per year and took $5bn to set up.


 
India wants to beat Elon Musk by setting up its own Gigafactory-modelled manufacturing plant. These plants are expected to produce 10GWh per year - so 40GWh in all – and they’re in tandem with the country’s EV ambitions. And the expected costs? $4bn for four different factories. To put that in perspective, 1GWH of battery power can provide electricity to 1 million households for one whole hour and power 30,000 cars.

 

 TELECOM  

Jio has taken over Airtel, but Vodafone Idea remains on top; the numbers, however, paint an ambiguous picture. American regulators approve merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.


 
The Great Indian Telecom Wars: Before Reliance Jio disrupted it entirely, India’s telecom industry had over a dozen operators battling it out to gain more market share. Then, three years ago, Jio upended the entire game with its rock-bottom tariffs and drove most competitors out of the battlefield. Then, there were three. Only Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel remained as private adversaries for Jio.


 
And Then There Were Two: Earlier this week, Jio overtook Airtel to become India’s second-largest operator in terms of mobile phone subscribers. Vodafone Idea still retained the apex position. But a closer look into the numbers reveals strange and interesting results.


 
Merger Mayhem: American regulators have approved T-Mobile’s $26.5bn takeover of rival Sprint. This leaves just three major cellphone companies in the US – the others being Verizon and AT&T. The Justice Department’s conditions included setting up a fourth, smaller provider named Dish as “a disruptive force in wireless”.


 
A federal judge is still required to sign off the T-Mobile-Sprint merger.

 

 TECH 

Can blockchain revolutionise construction and infrastructure planning? Facebook is using predictive machine learning and satellite imagery to map global human settlements.


 
Blockchain to Build Buildings?: Construction can be a tedious industry. Endless armies of contractors and sub-contractors to pay heed to, bundles upon bundles of codes, regulations and standards to adhere to, and deadlines and budgets to pay slavish attention to. Given all the constraints and challeges, can blockchain revolutionise construction and infrastructure?


 
When Technology and Cartography Collide: Mapping where humans live is a difficult operation. If you’re in Los Angeles or London, you can access a rich heap of data to translate demographics onto a map. But if you’re in, say, Kazakhstan or the Sahel, not only will reliable data be elusive, it might also be non-existent. Facebook is employing machine learning techniques on satellite imagery with almost 100% accuracy to bridge this information gap and portray a unique portrait of the depth and variation of human settlements around the globe.

 

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